What I’ve learned: Jonathan Ive

On suc­cess, Sim-card slots and Steve Jobs.

Esquire (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - In­ter­viewed by John Ar­lidge

I can’t even bring my­self to say math, in­stead of maths, so I say math­e­mat­ics. I sound ridicu­lous.

Ob­jects and their man­u­fac­ture are in­sep­a­ra­ble. You un­der­stand a prod­uct if you un­der­stand how it’s made. I want to know what things are for, how they work, what they can or should be made of, be­fore I even be­gin to think what they should look like. More and more peo­ple do. There is a resur­gence of the idea of craft.

Com­plete in­trigue with the phys­i­cal world starts by de­stroy­ing it. I re­mem­ber tak­ing an alarm clock to pieces and it was very dif­fi­cult to re­assem­ble. I couldn’t get the main­spring re­wound.

Steve [Jobs] and I spent months and months work­ing on a part of a prod­uct that, of­ten, no­body would ever see, nor re­alise was there. It didn’t make any dif­fer­ence func­tion­ally. We did it be­cause we cared, be­cause when you re­alise how well you can make some­thing, fall­ing short, whether seen or not, feels like fail­ure.

When we were look­ing at ob­jects, what our eyes phys­i­cally saw and what we came to per­ceive were ex­actly the same. And we would ask the same ques­tions, have the same cu­rios­ity about things.

I don’t like be­ing sin­gled out for at­ten­tion. De­sign­ing, engi­neer­ing and mak­ing th­ese prod­ucts re­quire large teams.

[My team] is re­ally much smaller than you’d think—about 15. Most of us have worked to­gether for 15 to 20 years. [But] we can be bit­terly crit­i­cal of our work. The per­sonal is­sues of ego have long since faded. Ev­ery­one I work with shares the same love of and re­spect for mak­ing.

It’s very hard to de­sign some­thing that you al­most do not see be­cause it just seems so ob­vi­ous, nat­u­ral and in­evitable.

So much has been writ­ten about Steve, and I don’t recog­nise my friend in much of it. Yes, he had a sur­gi­cally pre­cise opin­ion. Yes, it could sting. Yes, he con­stantly ques­tioned. “Is this good enough? Is this right?” But he was so clever. His ideas were bold and mag­nif­i­cent. They could suck the air from the room. And when the ideas didn’t come, he de­cided to be­lieve we would even­tu­ally make some­thing great. And, oh, the joy of get­ting there!

[When I went trav­el­ling with Steve], we’d get to the ho­tel and check in. I’d go up to my room but leave my bags by the door. I wouldn’t un­pack. I’d go and sit on the bed and wait for the in­evitable call from Steve: “Hey Jony, this ho­tel sucks. Let’s go.”

It’s odd and tough to talk about him, be­cause it doesn’t feel that long ago that he died.

Steve is my clos­est friend.

We’re sur­rounded by anony­mous, poorly made ob­jects. It’s tempt­ing to think it is be­cause the peo­ple who use them don’t care—just like the peo­ple who make them. But what we’ve shown is that peo­ple do care. It’s not just about aes­thet­ics. They care about things that are thought­fully con­ceived and well made. We make and sell a very, very large num­ber of—hope­fully—beau­ti­ful, well-made things. Our suc­cess is a vic­tory for pu­rity, in­tegrity—for giv­ing a damn.

One of the dis­tinct things about our prod­ucts is that they get reused and passed on. My old iphones? Erm. Ac­tu­ally, they’re not mine. They’re the com­pany’s. We re­use stuff, and then we’ll dis­as­sem­ble or re­cy­cle stuff. I un­der­stand what’s be­hind the ques­tion, but I think it’s a fun­da­men­tal—and good—part of the hu­man con­di­tion to try to make things bet­ter. That’s the role we’re play­ing.

We don’t take so long and make the way we make for fis­cal rea­sons. Quite the re­verse.

The [iphone’s] body is made from a sin­gle piece of ma­chined alu­minium. The whole thing is pol­ished first to a mir­ror fin­ish, and then it is very finely tex­tured, ex­cept for the Ap­ple logo. The cham­fers [smoothed-off edges] are cut with di­a­mond-tipped cut­ters. The cut­ters don’t usu­ally last very long, so we had to fig­ure out a way of mass-man­u­fac­tur­ing long-last­ing ones. The cam­era cover is sap­phire crys­tal. Look at the de­tails around the Sim-card slot. It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary!

The prod­uct you have in your hand, or put to your ear, or have in your pocket, is more per­sonal than the prod­uct you have on your desk. The strug­gle to make some­thing as dif­fi­cult and de­mand­ing as tech­nol­ogy so in­ti­mately per­sonal is what first at­tracted me to Ap­ple. Peo­ple have an in­cred­i­bly per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with what we make.

What peo­ple are re­spond­ing to is much big­ger than the ob­ject. They are re­spond­ing to some­thing rare—a group of peo­ple who do more than sim­ply make some­thing work; they make the very best prod­ucts they pos­si­bly can. It’s a demon­stra­tion against thought­less­ness and care­less­ness.

Yes. I’d stop [if Ap­ple doesn’t push the en­ve­lope any­more]. I’d make things for my­self, for my friends at home in­stead. The bar needs to be high. [But] I don’t think that will hap­pen. We are at the be­gin­ning of a re­mark­able time, when a re­mark­able num­ber of prod­ucts will be de­vel­oped. When you think about tech­nol­ogy and what it has en­abled us to do so far, and what it will en­able us to do in the fu­ture, we’re not even close to any kind of limit. It’s still so, so new.

At Ap­ple, there’s al­most a joy in look­ing at your ig­no­rance and re­al­is­ing, “Wow, we’re go­ing to learn about this and, by the time we’re done, we’re go­ing to re­ally un­der­stand and do some­thing great.” Ap­ple is im­per­fect, like ev­ery large col­lec­tion of peo­ple. But we have a rare qual­ity. There is this al­most pre-ver­bal, in­stinc­tive un­der­stand­ing about what we do, and why we do it. We share the same val­ues.

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